Sporting a custom jersey numbered 95, cheek bulging with a fresh lump of dip from the Mets clubhouse’s “special stash,” Bill Goldberg – or simply Goldberg to wrestling fans – is taking practice cuts beneath the baking sun at Citi Field, four hours before throwing the first pitch at tonight’s game. “There’s the funny moment,” he chuckles after the bat flies loose from his hands and down the first-base line.
Admittedly, the 48-year-old former WCW/WWE World Heavyweight Champion and NFL defensive tackle (not to mention actor and aspiring kickboxer – more on the latter in a bit) doesn’t seem most at ease inside a batting cage. Then again, he wasn’t the quickest study inside a squared circle either, and that didn’t stop him from translating sheer physicality and charisma into a singularly iconic – albeit relatively brief and undeniably polarizing – career between the ropes.
That legacy is why Goldberg, all due respect to his seasons with the Atlanta Falcons and recent gigs as MMA color commentator and TV host, is here today. More to the point, it’s why he’ll be a featured attraction this coming Sunday at Citi Field when the Mets’ hospitality group hosts Legends of Wrestling, an event featuring an impressive roster of active and retired talent – Bret Hart and Ric Flair will be in attendance, and the likes of Scott Steiner, the Nasty Boys and Ken Anderson will step into the ring.
It’s that same legacy he and I sat down to discuss just prior to his aforementioned batting practice session. That, and whether he cares what anyone but Bill Goldberg thinks of Bill Goldberg (nope), the odds of him putting on a pair of wrestling trunks one more time (pretty good, sorta) and, if he does, who’s next.
Does doing an event like this suggest you maintain respect for wrestling fans’ passion?
It does. It’s my opportunity to thank them for making me who I am in the wrestling world. I get very few chances to do that. And to hopefully make new Goldberg fans.
Speaking of, you’ve teased a return in some form to the ring. Would that be at this kind of exhibition or perhaps an emerging promotion like Global Force Wrestling?
When I was speaking of that, I wasn’t speaking of my correlation with any organization. This is an event I’m gonna put on myself. Not in association with Global Force or anyone. It’s an opportunity I’ve been given through a number of influential people to fulfill a dream of mine – to let my son watch me wrestle. I don’t want anybody telling me what to do in any capacity anymore. Therefore, I’m gonna do it on my own.
So, to clarify, there is something in the works.
There is an actual date in a stadium in this country that is set up with entertainment to put on an event like nobody’s ever seen. And it’s in my court. It’s all about timing, it’s all about the right opponent. There’s so much that goes into this, especially if it’s my last time. And I honestly don’t know if I’m 100-percent willing to do it, because I’m seriously considering kickboxing right now.
You’re saying you might not be able to balance both.
Yeah, one is fictitious and one couldn’t be any more real. If I was to consider, which I seriously am, the fight for GLORY [kickboxing promotion], I need to put the six-month training camp in and do it like a real fighter does it, so that may push the other thing.
Are you weighing whether you’ll enhance or diminish your legacy?
There’s an inherent risk of that always, especially when you consider I built my legacy on size, strength and ferociousness. When you get older, all of the above seem to dwindle, except for my ferociousness and my mental capacity. So you’re always rolling the dice. There’s a lot of things that go into a decision like this, and taking my legacy into consideration, that’s a lot on the line.
Is the appeal of kickboxing that it reasserts your reputation as an athlete?
There’s only one reason I would do the kickboxing thing, and that’s for myself. I’ve been doing it as an avid student on-and-off for 10 years, and it’s something I really enjoy. I’m 48 years old, dude, and it’s a tough thing, but getting associated with GLORY and seeing what a viable product it is and what my addition to the fray would do, I think it would be really cool for the sport. I’m not doing it because I think I’m a badass, because I have something to prove, because my son wants to see me do it. I’m doing it because I like it, and how many people can make a decision like that in their life on this level? For me, as a competitor, I just think it would be fun. I’m wired differently.
A lot of people have perceived you as being guarded and thorny.
I don’t give a shit what they think. People have opinions, and they’re like assholes. If you don’t want to investigate what you’re passing judgment on, then it’s your fault. And I believe that if people investigate Goldberg as a human being, I’m not such a bad guy.
Would you characterize wrestling fans’ passion as obsessive or admirable?
I think it’s both. In some cases, it’s closer to obsession, and in some cases, it’s admirable. For the most part, it’s admirable. It gives them someone to look up to, someone to live vicariously through. I’m a sports fan. I’m sitting here with the Mets, and I get to throw out the first pitch. That’s one of the coolest things in the world for anybody. [Wrestling fandom] is a different world, and one I acknowledge and greatly appreciate, but I don’t really understand it, you know?
How does the MMA fanbase’s relationship to their sport differ from wrestling fans’ to theirs?
I don’t think MMA’s been around long enough. It has for the true fan. There’s a parallel [with] the obsession part of it. I don’t think it’s ever going to be nearly as mainstream as wrestling. It’s a totally different entity. I’m not knocking combat sports at all, but J.J. Watt walks down the street, and if you don’t know who he is, you just think he’s some monstrous guy. But he’s arguably the best player in the NFL, and everyone in the world should know who he is. Yet we wrestle in our underwear in front of millions of people, and we’re more recognizable than they are.
It seems like having that sense of humor about your legacy in the sport of wrestling is essential.
The business of wrestling. You can’t call it a sport, ’cause it’s not a sport. I very much respect it and admire it and appreciate it, but it’s not based upon competition − period, end of story. So there can only be a certain amount of respect and adulation for it, because it’s fictitious.
There are still very real, competitive egos and personalities in wrestling.
Well, yeah. They’re competitive personalities, but the storylines are already written.
Your stance about not going back to WWE has been very clear, but do you appreciate how Brock Lesnar’s returned on his terms?
Brock and Ernest Miller are the only two [wrestlers] that I talk to since I left. I talk to Brock once [every] couple months. He’s a genius, but he’s a little younger than me, and he can tolerate a little more than I can. I refuse to do it. The one year that I [joined WWE], I’m so mad at myself for doing it, but I owed it to the fans to try it. I put myself on that platter and I got slaughtered. That’s how I feel, and I shouldn’t feel like that. I should think wrestling is the most positive thing in the world. The fact is, behind the scenes, there’s stuff that goes on that’s bush-league. It’s laughable. So to see a guy like Brock do what he’s doing, are you kidding me? I admire him whole-heartedly, and I like to think that I taught him a thing or two. I’d love to wrestle Brock again.
All told, do you want your time in wrestling to define your legacy?
My character is just an extension of me. The in-ring work, the things that will always be said about me: Big, overbearing, powerful, in-your-face, couldn’t wrestle – I never needed to wrestle. Why did I need to learn how to wrestle? Did Hulk Hogan need to learn how to wrestle? Nope. Is Hulk Hogan a good athlete? Nope. I don’t know what my legacy’s going to be in the wrestling world, except I kicked ass and I took names. I want wrestling to be the thing that opens the door for people to look inside the world of Bill Goldberg. If it took professional wrestling for people to recognize me as a person, then all the other endeavors I embark upon will explain me as a person, define me as a person, but wrestling will not define me.